Reminiscing Novovolynsk

Monday, April 11, 2011

If you've been following our blog for a little while, you know that I am originally from Novovolynsk, Ukraine but grew up in America. My family and I immigrated to the US in 1992 when I was 6 years old, and this was my first time back in Ukraine (with my wife Julia). 

While in Novovolynsk, we decided to visit the church that I attended for the first six year of my life. It was quite a different feeling coming here. A lot of things stayed the same even after 19 years. Julia and I sat up in the balcony, which I never got to do when I was younger. I always had to sit downstairs by my mom, so I guess that was cool. Everything looked and felt a lot smaller but I guess that's common. As a kid, everything in the church was big to me, but now being in the church and walking around it outside, it's not half the size I remembered it to be. I've never felt anything like this before. It's hard to explain but it almost felt like the memories I have of this church and coming here are a dream or some foggy dejavu type of experience. I remember the painting behind the choir very well; I guess it's hard to forget something like that especially since you're staring at it most every Sunday. The church service was like most Pentecostal Slavic services we're used to back in the States.

After church we headed back to Baba Lyuba's place for some lunch. Her kitchen was just like I remembered it, even the overhanging fish (her son, Vadim, is quite the fisherman--he dries the fish on a line to make taranka). She often cooked for us and we hung around the kitchen in the meantime. She told us stories of my parents, aunts and uncles, and growing up in Ukraine. We found out the blue tile on the walls around the kitchen was done by my dad and uncle some 20 years ago. Julia and I listened with fascination and had lots of questions. We ate more than enough each time but like any Ukrainian grandma, she would shake her head in disappointment that we didn't eat anything. 

My mom's cousin, Volodya, picked us up one day and he kindly drove us around town to see some memorable houses from my childhood. We stopped by my grandparents' former house (they've since moved to the States). This house is where my aunts and uncles grew up, where my parents lived when they first got married, and also where I was born and spent the first few years of my life. We wanted to see the interior of the house but no one was home at the moment so we went over to the neighbor's house (because Volodya knew them from church). We had no idea who they were but after chatting for a few minutes over some hot tea and piroshki, we found out that they have a few kids living in Washington and one of them even goes to our church... small world, eh? On our way out, we saw that the people who currently occupy my grandparents' old house were home and they welcomed us inside for a look around. While showing us each room, they described who lives there now and shared a few stories of what they've done to the place. We drove to the house of my other set of grandparents and were welcomed inside there as well. This particular lady was really excited that someone from America came to visit her. She ended up taking us to the woodshed and showing us her guinea pig. Then told us she couldn't let us go without taking us over to her neighbors so they could see us with their own eyes. 

From there we finally headed to 'our' home-- the last house where my family lived before immigrating to America when I was 6 years old. It's exactly as I remembered it, except a lot smaller, and the swing that my dad built outside of our gate was no longer there. Unfortunately, no one was home so we couldn't go inside. The street looked the same, the neighbor across the street and his home looked exactly the same, everything just felt so familiar. I walked over to the railroad tracks next to our home which were only 100 meters away. I remembered the times I came out there as a kid and put rocks and coins on the tracks before the train came and then being fascinated by the flat coin... not sure what happened with the rocks though. It was so nice to stand there and relive some of these memories. I don't have many but the few I have, I cherish. 

That evening Volodya took us home with him for dinner, and we got to meet his wife and their 9 (?) kids and one grandchild. We had a beautiful evening with them. Everyone we encountered in Novovolynsk was very kind, humble, and open. They didn't hesitate to invite us in and certainly didn't hesitate to offer food to a couple of young guns from America that they've never met. 

I feel like this was one of the best experiences of our trip, personally-- to revisit my home and the city where I was born and grew up. It's something that I probably should have done a lot sooner. People always ask if I've been back to Ukraine and it was always a little embarrassing telling people that I haven't yet. This turned out to be a much better experience than I was expecting. And made me realize how special Ukraine and it's people really are to me.

Visiting my old church in Novovolynsk on Sunday morning. 

Baby Lyuba, my great aunt, at church.

Exterior of Baba Lyuba's apartment building.
In Baba Lyuba's kitchen. The blue tile was put in by my Dad more than 20 years ago.
Rugs on the wall--classic Ukrainian style. Art belongs on a wall anyways, not on the floor.
This fish drying line is exactly how I remember it back when I was 6 years old. 

This was my grandparent's home. I have a memory of my dad, grandpa, and uncles butchering one of their pigs right in front of the red door to the left of the photo. I remember feeling so cool because my dad let me stay and watch. After they cut the head off, I got to stand and swat the flies away from the pig's head.Lady who currently lives in my mom's parents' home (the home is behind her). The way it stands now is the way it was 19 years ago. My dad soldered and welded that greenish gate.
This was the 'summer kitchen', at my grandma's home. I feel like I spent more time here than I did in the actual house.
More 'art' on the wall...

My other grandparent's house, it's been remodeled so doesn't quite look like I remember it, but the garage is familiar. There were 3 large round rings interlocking on the side of the garage (decorative thing), kind of like the audi logo but minus a ring, those rings are still there, crumbling but still there for the moment. For some reason I always remembered those rings, I thought they had some significant meaning to our family but according to my Dad, they were there just for decoration.
The women who live in the house now. It's common for several generations to live in one house. 
I thought this might be the one country that we didn't run into kittens/cats because of the freezing weather but....
Solomko family (the neighbors). Very nice and humble people, we had a great time chatting with them.

The home where my family lived until we immigrated to America.Railroad tracks near my home where I used to play as a kid.

Dinner with Volodya's family and their sweet kids.Not a rug on the wall, but equally decorative.


  1. This is amazing, what a treat to revisit such a beautiful part of your childhood...
    My name is Corey Villicana, I really enjoy your blog! Xoxo

  2. i dont know if you mentioned it and i didn't see it, but when did you move to the US? Just out of curiosity.
    I'm from Romania originally and wow, a lot of your pictures remind me SO much of my grandparent's village, where I spent every summer.
    I think your pictures are incredible and inspirational. It's enough enough to simply document, it's so much more to relay an emotion, a warm childhood memory. Wonderful.

  3. yessss. more cats and wall rugs. I love the personal history behind this post and Julia, you look like you totally belong in Ukraine!

  4. These pictures are gorgeous! I love them all!

  5. Thank you for this post. This was beautiful. My sister showed me your blog last night because soon we will be on our way to Greece, Italy, Turkey and Israel. I am so looking forward to it after seeing the amazing culture and food.

    I visited Moldova, next to Ukraine about 7 years ago and these photos remind me so much of it. I love the photos that you posted of people and families. I found myself crying,which I was surprised by myself, looking at the photos of people. I live in Australia but I have a great desire to meet and help people all over the world one day and I absolutely love photography! :)

    My grandfather is not alive now but he had a similar passion for photography, people and for prayer.

    You are an abslutely beautiful couple and I pray that God blesses you tremendously. I love your creativity and love for life.

    All the best on your future travels. God Bless!


  6. I've been reading this blog for a very long time. The pics are inspiring and the stories equally captivating so I wrote about it on my blog. Hope you don't mind.

  7. What a lovely post... I think Im adding Ukraine on my list of places to visit !

  8. Just came across your blog and loving the concept and your pictures! Can't wait to catch up on where you've been.. I'm from London so will definitely check out the England post! Im currently living in Hawaii with my gf, feel free to check out our blog

    Megan x

  9. Irene- Thanks for the note. We updated it to include the background info and date (1992).

    Kae- I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

    Angela- Thank you for the touching comment. I'm so glad you could relate to our story.

    Shyala- Thank you for the feature on your blog! What an honor.

  10. Yuriy, that is really one of my favorite posts so far, I love to learn more about your family, how they live / lived in the Ukraine and to see all those amazing pictures!
    Thanks so much for sharing this personal post with us! Looking forward to see much more!!
    Have a lovely day, Kristina
    PS: Julia, you look beautiful as always :)

  11. This is one of the most beautiful posts I have read on your wonderful blog. Thank you :)

  12. one of my fav posts, too. i love the blog's emphasis on eastern europe. i'm in poland quite often and when i tell this to my german students, they respond pretty negatively (toward poland/eastern europe in general). i just love it, though. i'm hoping to make it to ukraine soon!

  13. This is such a great, personal post- thanks for sharing! It's so great that you're able to revisit your childhood and see your old home. The people there are so kind and friendly for letting you in.

  14. that is so awesome for you to have been able to see all that history from so many years ago. I look forward to doing the same and I too imagine everything to be much bigger than it probably is.

  15. Lovely blog, and absolutely great pictures!
    Follow you!
    kisses from Spain!

  16. So much of this post reminds me of Poland. I've not been to as small of a village like this, but many things are similar.

    I have to admit, the kittens are my favorite part of this post. : )

  17. WHAT A TREASURE I HAVE FOUND! thank you to janis, you are incredible!!! i am going to have lots of fun getting to know your blog. this is fantastic and just up my alley.

  18. Thanks so much for all the positive feedback! We usually feel like our personal posts are the boring ones, but apparently that's what you guys appreciate more.

    Kylie- Thanks for visiting from Janis's blog! She is a gem. We owe her big time for writing about us.

  19. This is one of the most fascinating posts I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing about your childhood memories and homes. The photos captured the real gist of it all.
    Your great aunt is simply beautiful. I could just travel there right now and cook with her, she seems utterly charming. :)
    Thanks for writing yet another great post.

  20. We have the same steel white cup with flowers on it! ha ha.
    I had a similar experience revisiting my hometown after 12 years for the first time. It felt like walking into a day dream. It felt good to know some things didn't change.

  21. New to the blog but very excited to catch up on your journey! I loved this posted about returning to your home in Ukraine. How wonderful for you guys to share that together. Can't wait to keep reading!


  22. Tanya- It is so good that some things don't change! I wish more things stayed the same.

    Jessa- So cool that we are still getting new readers after we are home from our travels. We still have a LOT to post. Welcome. :)

  23. that is the same church i went too, i remember our sunday school gatherings, and have pictures the whole sunday class. i have yet to go visit. we left ukraine in 1995. (who knows maybe ill recognize you frm the pictures:) )

  24. Looking at all those women in church in their babushkas reminds me of my Polish grandmother. It's one of the few terms she taught me when I was little that I still remember.